Part 3: Kosen-rufu and World Peace
Chapter 31: The Great Path to World Peace [31.24]

31.24 Conflict Arises from the Anger in Our Hearts

In a lecture at the East-West Center in Hawaii, President Ikeda examines the root causes of conflict and warfare and argues that Buddhism represents the means to resolve such issues.

The consistent intent of Buddhism is to develop the wisdom that arises from the compassion inherent in the depths of human life. In a letter to one of his disciples, Nichiren—whose teachings we uphold—wrote the following: “Your practice of the Buddhist teachings will not relieve you of the sufferings of birth and death in the least unless you perceive the true nature of your life. If you seek enlightenment outside yourself, then your performing even ten thousand practices and ten thousand good deeds will be in vain. It is like the case of a poor man who spends night and day counting his neighbor’s wealth but gains not even half a coin” (WND-1, 3).

A distinctive characteristic of Buddhism, and of Eastern thought in general, is the insistence that intellectual activity always be developed in intimate dialogue with such existential, subjective questions as: “What is the self?” and “What is the best way to live?” The passage I quoted is representative of this style of reasoning.

In recent years, there has been growing concern that competition for water and other natural resources will be an ever more frequent cause of regional conflicts. In this connection, I am reminded of the wisdom that Shakyamuni demonstrated in response to a communal conflict over water in his native state.

When his peripatetic teachings brought Shakyamuni back to Kapilavastu, he found that a drought had depleted the waters of a river running between two ethnic groups in the region, bringing them into conflict. Neither group was prepared to yield, arms had been taken up and bloodshed seemed unavoidable.

Entering between the two factions, Shakyamuni admonished them thus: “Look at those who fight, ready to kill! Fear arises from taking up arms and preparing to strike.”1

It is precisely because you are armed that you feel fear—this clear and simple reasoning reverberated in the hearts of the parties to the conflict, awakening them to the folly of their actions. All put down their weapons, and friend and enemy sat down together.

When Shakyamuni spoke, he addressed not the rights and wrongs of the immediate conflict but the primal terror of death. He spoke with power and intimacy on overcoming the foremost fear—of our own inevitable death—and living a life of peace and security.

Of course, compared to the fierce complexity of contemporary conflicts, this episode may appear all too simplistic. The present war in the former Yugoslavia, to take but one example, has roots that reach back nearly two thousand years. During that time, the region has seen the schism between the eastern and western Christian churches, the conquests of the Ottoman Turks, and in this century the atrocities of fascism and communism. The tangled animosities of race and religion are indescribably deep and powerful. Each group emphasizes its uniqueness; each group knows and draws upon its history for justification. The result is the deadly stalemate we see today.

It is for just these reasons that I find an urgent meaning in the pattern demonstrated by Shakyamuni’s courageous dialogue. Our times demand an embracing wisdom that, rather than dividing, brings into view that which we share and hold in common as human beings.

The teachings of Buddhism offer a treasure trove of peace-oriented wisdom. Nichiren, for example, provides this pointed insight into the relationship between the basic negative tendencies within human life and the most pressing external threats to peace and security: “In a country where the three poisons [of greed, anger, and foolishness] prevail to such a degree, how can there be peace and stability? . . . Famine occurs as a result of greed, pestilence as a result of foolishness, and warfare as a result of anger” (WND-1, 989).

The wisdom of Buddhism enables us to break the confines of the “lesser self” (Jpn. shoga), the private and isolated self held prisoner to its own desires, passions, and hatreds. It further enables us to contextualize the deep-rooted psychology of collective identity as we expand our lives, with overflowing exuberance, toward the “greater self” (Jpn. taiga), which is coexistent with the universe.

This wisdom is not to be sought in some distant place, but can be found within ourselves, beneath our very feet as it were. It resides in the living microcosm within and wells forth in limitless profusion when we devote ourselves to courageous and compassionate action for the sake of humanity, society, and the future.

Through this kind of bodhisattva practice, we develop the wisdom to sever the shackles of ego, and the spheres of our disparate knowledge will begin to turn with vibrant balance toward a prosperous human future.

From a lecture titled “Peace and Human Security: A Buddhist Perspective for the Twenty-first Century,” at the East-West Center, USA, January 26, 1995.

The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works on key themes.

  • *1Cf. The Sutta-Nipata, translated by H. Saddhatissa (London: Curzon Press, 1987), p. 109; Sutta-Nipata, edited by Dines Andersen and Helmer Smith (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984), p. 182.